A place where laughter is a part of life

A place where laughter is a part of life
Photograph: www.bixby.berkeley.edu

11 November 2011

Naked in Nigeria Goes Awol in Australia

After a decadent detour through Dubai, Naked in Nigeria looks set to be spending the rest of 2011 in Australia sorting through the red tape of work contracts and visas.  It's set to be a fun time catching up with family and friends, getting fit and enjoying some much missed favourite foods.  Stay tuned as plans for 2012 unfold... updates coming soon.

09 October 2011

London Versus Nigeria

Finding myself in London with an unplanned month of time to kill I did a lot of reading.  One book that made it's way into my collection was "The Shadow of the Sun: My African Life" by Ryszard Kapuscinski which provided an apt description of Europe versus Africa:

"In Europe, the man on the street is usually heading toward a definite goal.  The crowd has a direction and a rhythm, which is frequently characterized by haste.  In an African city, only some of the people behave this way.  The others are not going anywhere; they have nowhere to go and no reason to go there."

And so it was that I found myself trapped between the two cultures; a Westerner by birth whose natural instinct was to walk with haste and yet I had nowhere in particular to go and no reason to go there.

Despite my lack of purpose as I idly waited for my return visa to be approved, it was apparent that my genetic predisposition of direction and rhythm shone through.  A few weeks into my stay and tour guides quit touting me with offers to see the sights of London - I can only assume that my pace suggested I was a local with somewhere very definite to be.  How do you think I felt when a group of Aussie backpackers sought my advice on directions and ridiculously I could assist because I'd been aimlessly combing the streets of London for so long?!  As I offered my advice they noted my Australian accent and inquired as to whether I lived in London.  To which the only response I could muster was "err, no, not really" although it was certainly starting to feel like that was the case.  Most intriguing of all however was when a Nigerian lady bailed me up and burst into tears about the troubles she was having trying to track down a police station that had found her missing wallet.  I couldn't help but wonder whether I gave off a Nigerian vibe that made her comfortable to seek my help... how bizarre!

London spoilt me with some Westerner delights that I'd definitely missed over the last six months... massages, waxing, hairdressers, dentists, shopping and food to die for!  I think I may have eaten my body weight in cheese!  I had the opportunity to catch up with Steph who'd just returned from three months in Spain, and Steve flew in from Dubai for four magical days together.

My return to Nigeria couldn't have come soon enough though.  I'd have always thought that if someone offered me a month trapped in London (or anywhere for that matter) with no responsibilities that it would seem like a dream come true.  The reality is that I felt useless!

Since returning home, I've laughed many times over at the weird little things I encounter that make Nigeria "home" for now...

  • Where else in the world do bank tellers hand over your money and wish you good transactions?
  • Where can you find cars with signs that say "buy me" or "marry me"?
  • Not once did the hotel doormen in London make announcements like "you're going out" or "you're back" as I was leaving or returning... that can be very important if you ever have a moment of disorientation!
  • Likewise, not a single Londoner took the time to smile broadly and say "well done" as I jogged through Hyde Park... that does wonders for motivation!
  • In London you definitely can't own a crocodile, baboon or monkey as a pet!  Now before all you tree-hugging, animal activists post angry comments of disdain to this idea, let me emphatically declare that I am an animal lover and don't condone this notion... but let's be honest and remember that we're a country where human rights are still a work in progress... animal rights haven't quite made it to the political agenda!
  • And there's certainly no advertising to make you laugh every day in London like the couple I've spotted since my return to Nigeria...

Is that a cham or a sham? A private lesson in what exactly? With artwork like that, you're clearly a winner!

Despite my London skin tone and the fact that I blended with the crowd and didn't have the pleasure of being reminded on a daily basis that I'm white, it was apparent that Nigeria has left it's mark on me.  I was certainly the only white person in London excited by the fact that cars drive in lanes and obey traffic rules... more than once I caught myself looking a little out of place as I waved with great enthusiasm and gratitude every time a car would actually stop and let me cross at a zebra crossing.  Anyone who's lived in Nigeria will understand just how very novel such an experience can be!

My parting piece of advice for Nigerians who might find themselves living in London and feeling a little homesick is to make a visit to the Nigerian High Commission.  From the outside it looks very London... it's a beautiful old building not far from Trafalgar Square... and yet it's like entering a twilight zone in that the second you cross the threshold it's like an instantaneous return to the chaos, loudness and laughter that's so absolutely Nigeria!

22 September 2011

Naked in Nigeria Lets Loose in London

Just back to Nigeria after having been stuck in London for a month... blog updates and photos coming soon I promise...

06 August 2011

The Roof of Africa

Kez and I made it to the roof of Africa (Mount Kilimanjaro 5895m) and it was fabulous!  The first five days were so easy compared to my previous treks in the Himalayas (Annapurna Circuit 5416m and Kala Patthar 5643m) because we had the luxury of chill out time or afternoon naps.  Days six and seven threw up some challenges and great fun.  From Barranco camp we were faced with a "mini scramble" over the Great Barranco Wall... well at least that's what our guide, August, liked to call it.  I spent much of the day debating his choice of terminology and personally thought it was more like "beginner's rock climbing"  which was no small feat given that I'm terrified of heights!  I wish I had photo evidence that did justice to my efforts but quite frankly I was far too busy trying not to fall to an early grave.

We kicked off at midnight on day six for our push to the summit with just over 1000m altitude to climb and reached Uhuru Point in time for sunrise.  There's never words sufficient to describe the feeling when you make it... perhaps a mix of elation, achievement, relief and absolute awe at the surroundings.  The glaciers on Kilimanjaro are nothing short of magical!

The trek from the summit was a very different experience to Nepal.  We "scree walked" down the rocky slopes at a cracking pace.  It's like ski-ing on your boots and it was such wonderful fun!

A highlight for me was the food!  Our cook, Patrick, had a mighty knack for turning out delicious meals over a little gas stove in a tent.  And our waiter, Alex, guaranteed laughter on a daily basis.  He spoke brilliant English but was intent on teaching me Swahili so meals came paired with his wonderful grin and an always entertaining chat where my comprehension and replies left much to be desired.

With another high altitude achievement under our belt, it was time to celebrate and what a great night it was!

I'm a big believer that every mountain conquered warrants some quality relaxation and Zanzibar definitely hit the spot.  Five days at Fumba Lodge was the perfect setting to spend lazy days reading, eating, drinking and laughing ourselves silly.

With our energy renewed we headed to Stonetown to explore it's maze of lane ways, get in some shopping and hit the local nightlife.  We wrapped things up in Dar es Salaam and begrudgingly headed back to reality.

If my photos inspire you to take on the trekking challenge or spend lazy days in Zanzibar, I'd highly recommend Gladys who made all our travel arrangements (www.gladysadventure.com)... she's got a wonderful team, she's a total sweetie and she'll cater to your every whim!

26 June 2011

Bombs, Blood and Meltdown

The last two weeks saw me clocking up a few firsts for my time in Nigeria.

I experienced my first bombing which was detonated in the car park of the Abuja Police Headquarters.  I missed the sound of the explosion but watched the smoky aftermath from my office window.  News reports suggest that it claimed eight lives, injured several others and destroyed about eighty cars.  It's certainly not the first bombing in Nigeria, although the fact that it was a suicide bomber is a new phenomenon.

Photo courtesy of nigeriadailynews.com

I was challenged with my first IT meltdown thanks to a nasty little virus that crashed my system.  It very much made me realise how reliant I am on technology to keep me in touch with the outside world.

And on a much lighter note, I donated my first pint of blood to the Nigerian National Blood Service as my little way of supporting World Blood Donor Day.

The theme for World Blood Donor Day 2011 was “More Blood More Life” aimed at reinforcing the urgent need for more people globally to become life-savers by voluntarily donating blood on a regular basis.

Approximately 93 million units of blood are currently donated globally to save lives and improve health.  Adequate supplies are crucial to replace blood lost in childbirth (a major cause of maternal death), to treat anaemia that threatens the lives of children who have malaria or are undernourished, for treating congenital blood disorders, and for routine and emergency surgery including life-saving treatment for the growing number of people injured in road traffic accidents.

It is estimated that Nigeria needs 1.13million units of blood annually to meet the country’s requirements for blood transfusions.  With a population of 158million, that means that just 0.7% of people could make all the difference.

There's loads of benefits to giving blood:
  • “Doing good to someone in need not only helps the needy but also gives psychological satisfaction to the donor.  One of the easiest but valuable donations is the donation of blood for the needy."
  • Blood donation helps to maintain healthy iron levels in the blood which reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke (and fights hemochromatosis).
  • Blood donation helps to stimulate the production of new blood cells.
  • Blood donors receive basic medical screening (weight, blood pressure, HIV, hepatitis viruses and syphilis) meaning that they are more in control of their own health status.
  • Evidence shows that voluntary donors are at lower risk of transmitting life-threatening infections through their blood than family and replacement donors, and especially paid donors.
PS: 4 days until I depart for Tanzania so my blog will be especially quiet over the next few weeks.  Stay tuned though for some exciting photos and stories of adventure, fun and laughter!

05 June 2011

Love, Marriage and Babies

These are three very serious topics in Nigeria, ranked utmost in the cultures value system, as I was quick to learn when I underwent my security clearance.  My interviewer read over my application documents, peered at me over the rim of her glasses and exclaimed "You're 39 years old, not married and don't have any children - are you gay?"

Having negotiated my way successfully through an explanation about my career, travel and freedom priorities we moved straight onto a very common assumption in Nigeria.  I'm a "bature" or an "oyibo" meaning a white person which instantly equates me with being wealthy and a very good marriage catch.  The interviewer jumped at the chance to brief me on the finer qualities of her brothers who were both available.  Not wanting to offend I used my most favourite tactic to move the conversation along without any sort of commitment... laughter.

Later in the interview we came to the topic of my salary.  She reviewed my documents and inquired as to whether I'd inadvertently left off a couple of zeros in my yearly earnings.  When I explained that the figure was accurate and talked about my being in the country as a volunteer, she was very swift to withdraw the offer of her brothers as my potential husbands.  Somehow I'm confident that the last laugh was on me!

My unfounded status as the ideal marriage partner means I'm eternally bombarded with male attention and I've come to find the Nigerian approach to pick up lines most amusing although at times relentless, tiring and downright annoying.  There's two key messages; power (to evidence that they'll give you a good life) and friendship (to prove that they're not looking for a casual fling).

  • "I earn more than your boyfriend."  Take a moment to think about how many wild assumptions are in that one; I have a boyfriend, you know how much he earns and I'd dump him in an instant for more wealth.
  • "I'm a business man - I could meet you in London, America, anywhere you like."  Well, that's nice dear but quite frankly I'm planning on staying in Nigeria.
  • Another favourite approach is to immediately present you with a list of names of all the powerful people that they know.  Not much use on a girl from out of town, even if she was stupid enough to believe it.
  • And this weekend I was handed a serviette by a waitress with no indication of where it came from that simply read "I would really like to be friends with you and I think a call would be appreciated."  Absolutely, I'll call a random number in the hope that my ideal match just happens to answer (not)!

04 June 2011

Hembelembeh, Olohlololoh

Every morning I greet my driver with a "Hembelembeh" and he replies with an "Olohlololoh" and with that, we know we're in for a great day.  Words on a page don't quite do the phrase justice... it needs the pizazz of a rhythmical singing tone!  It's a tradition that spawned from our listening to the Brekete reality radio show each morning.  Brekete went to air in January 2010 and describes itself as "a voice to the voiceless, a leg to the legless, a hand to the handless and an advocate of the underprivileged."  "Hembelembeh, Olohlololoh" is their slogan which stands for happiness.  They believe happiness comes from social equity, from equal opportunity, from fairness, from hard work, patriotism and from faith in God.  Who can argue with that?  Hembelembeh!

The first catch cry that got my attention in Nigeria was "you're welcome."  It seemed the perfect greeting as I made my way through the airport terminal and all the airline staff presented me with a huge Nigerian grin and "you're welcome."  "Thank you" I'd reply with similar enthusiasm as I delighted in the passion of the people in my new home country.  The joy of my existence continued as my collection of "you're welcomes" amassed over coming days on arrival at the hotel, the office, the local market, shopping center, food vendors and even from people who simply seemed privileged that I'd entered their space on the pavement... "you're welcome."  Until it finally struck me that it's the Nigerian way of saying hello!  Whether you're actually welcome or not is an entirely different question.

This was perhaps a most important lesson in not taking meanings at face value and just in time for my next encounter of unique Nigerian terminology.  At the end of a meeting I was presented with a business card and the words "flash me."  Imagine the surprise of my colleague had I suddenly given them "Naked in Nigeria" for real?  As it turns out, "flash me" is a request to call someone and hang up so that you're number appears on their mobile and they can add you to their contacts.  Whether that leads to the more x-rated version of flashing we know in Australia is entirely up to you!

This week however I remain bewildered over another new term that presented itself in a media interview about the governments commitment to fairness and transparency in politics.  They adamantly claimed they would remove all shady characters and stamp out "the jinx of the proverbial banana peel."  I can only assume it alludes to those with slippery fingers and a penchant for corruption.  Stamp them out indeed!